Blackboard and the future of Moodlerooms

"Big Fish Eat Little Fish," engravin...

"Big Fish Eat Little Fish," engraving, dated 1557. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here at MiraCosta, we are customers of both Blackboard and Moodlerooms, so the announcement of Bb’s acquisition of Moodlerooms is more than just a curiosity. Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle have overview articles. IHE’s is better than the Chronicle’s, which is most notable for its bizarre statement that “Now Blackboard essentially owns the open-source alternatives” to the Bb Learn course management system (CMS). Yeah, no. Open source remains open source, there are alternative Moodle hosting services, and there are other open source systems (Canvas, e.g.).

If the topic interests you but you’d rather not dig through articles, blog reactions (which predictably run the gamut from quite positive to intensely negative to “I don’t get it”), and listserv postings, I’ve attempted to distill the various analyses here (please add others in the comments!):

Neutral-to-positive

  • Bb is positioning itself to compete with emerging alternative providers of CMS functionality: ERP systems, portal systems and publishers. Bb will be less pushy of Learn and move toward being a “pick your CMS” vendor. This could position Bb better to win consortial/system contracts within which institutions will have choice…
  • Bb recognizes the future value in the CMS is not in the software but in the service. Becomes more about hosting and related services, and less about product / a specific software package.
  • Bb, and specifically Ray Henderson, have seen the light and recognize that future success cannot be accomplished without embracing open source products, principles, and community.
  • This will bring more Moodle hosting services into the market to provide an alternative to big bad Bb, and don’t forget about existing alternatives.

Less than enthusiastic

  • Bb’s plan continues to be to hook customers through the CMS as a gateway to their various other higher-margin products. This deal just broadens their customer base for upselling.
  • Bb’s “contribution” to open source will be code that enables tighter integration of other Bb products with open source CMSs. (This is something that I heard “between the lines” of the Bb/Moodlerooms webinar – anyone else?)
  • Bb is “open washing” and may end up driving away the open source community it purports to be interested in engaging.
  • Don’t forget, Bb is owned by Providence Equity … this may have much more to do with how an equity company runs its investments than any particular Bb/CMS strategy.
  • Get ready to pay more for MoodleRooms.
  • Moodlerooms was already headed down a road of “proprietizing” Moodle and this will likely continue even more. Fear: migrating out of the Bb/MR Moodle fork back into open Moodle may become increasingly difficult. Or will Bb share back as they purport to be committed to?
  • Bb is going to fold MoodleRooms into future Bb releases. Get out of MoodleRooms if you want Moodle. [This is NOT a common view but I did see it expressed somewhere.]

The future of the Moodlerooms service?

Other than the last couple points, the majority of these don’t see an immediate or even medium-term threat to the Moodlerooms service for current customers. I think the short-term bottom line is that Moodlerooms will continue to exist as it has, continuing to do what it does.

The longer-term key will be what Bb says over the next month or so. Bb’s pattern in the past with acquisitions (WebCT, Angel, Wimba, Elluminate) has been to initially reassure people that nothing will change in the immediate future (and that has been mostly true), as well as to describe some bland “synergies” both sides hope to get out of the deal (Bb has lots of tech resources, this new acquisition has a great service model Bb can learn from, etc.). Then, and I think Bb has been pretty transparent and accurate about this, they may describe their longer-term intentions to create a “best of breed” new product, and/or to support ongoing releases and then move towards a sunset of an acquired product. In this case, I don’t see any initial indications that Bb is going this route, but I’m not ready to go out on any limbs and predict that Moodlerooms will indefinitely serve our needs. But I do feel relatively confident that it will work for us for 2012-2013.

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Getting started

Beginnings are awesome. Three weeks into my new role as MiraCosta College’s first Faculty Director of Online Education, I remain amazed and humbled by this opportunity. I have been given incredible latitude to define the role, to assess the possibilities, to learn about challenges, to build relationships, to engage the MiraCosta community.

MiraCosta’s Program for Online Teaching is a wonderful invitation to undertake this journey with seasoned travelers and fellow learners. The requirement to blog, along with the space I’ve been given in this position, is what I’ve needed for years. I’m a long-time microblogger, but have merely nibbled around the edge of blogging and participating in communities of bloggers. It is time to open wide.

I’m an avid user of Evernote. When I learned that MiraCosta was hiring me, I began keeping a list there of questions to pursue regarding online education at MiraCosta. I anticipate that for some time, this blog will be all about answering, refining, and struggling with these questions, while asking ever more. And I hope that this blog will extend the dialog to other MiraCostans and beyond.

Without further ado, my questions, loosely organized …

Student support issues

  • Are there info literacy/tech literacy requirements/desires for students?
  • What are student opinions about online courses, technologies, support?
  • What are the most-cited pressures/frustrations/challenges/problems/concerns of students?

Faculty support issues

  • What concerns are there re intellectual property? copyright issues? course ownership?
  • What are the hot button issues? FERPA? “curriculum” compliance?
  • Who’s responsible for FERPA issues – defining/policy-making, training, enforcing, etc?
  • What are the most-cited pressures/frustrations/challenges/problems/concerns of faculty?
  • Relationship with campus bookstore? Use of eBooks, readers, Cafe Scribe? Policy on eBook purchasing/format (Follett/Cafe Scribe)?

Pedagogical support issues

  • Are there examples of courses heavily using synchronous sessions?
  • Innovations in course materials? eBooks? OERs? etc.
  • Anyone doing/discussing portfolios/ePortfolios?

Technology support issues

  • Moodle v. Bb. – history, current state, vision for future
  • Integration of library resources into the CMSs?
  • What web 2.0 tools being used? Any problems with use of cloud storage/sharing tools such as Dropbox, google docs, etc? Social media such as twitter, facebook?
  • What tools are used for supporting non-academic group activities?
  • Is “let a thousand flowers bloom” working for faculty and students w/regard to instructional technologies? Are things moving toward consolidation/standardization, toward increasing diversity, or stasis?

Systemic/organization issues:

  • Where is there trust/confidence? Where wariness/uncertainty/lack of confidence?
  • Who are the key players (individuals & departments)?
  • Course outcome measures? (or other statistics being tracked/cited?)
  • Are there common student learning outcomes across programs? How are those implemented/taught/measured/tracked?
  • Are there different measures/tracking being used for online vs. other courses?
  • What is being done that should stop that would enable increases in quantity and/or quality of online education?
  • What needs to be started to enable increases in quantity and/or quality of online education? (eg policies, procedures, practices, people, programs, technologies, expectations, fears, misunderstandings, budget)
  • What are the bridges between in-person courses and online courses?
  • What do I need to wrap my head around about MiraCosta and CCs in general, coming from SDSU and the 4-year world?
  • Are people on the same page about MiraCosta’s mission? What is that?
  • What are the exemplars/aspirational institutions MiraCosta should look to?
  • What are the organizations MiraCosta is/should be part of to help get there?
  • Are there areas outside of strictly “online education” where this position could provide leadership/support?
  • What are the administrative procedures I should know about? Who are the key getting-things-done people?
  • What are the compliance mandates, reporting requirements, regulatory issues, etc. which I need to be aware of/publicize/enforce/compile/create/deflect?
Looking forward to thinking through these and others here, hopefully as part of a community!